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Winter Road Trips and Scenic Drives in Western Montana

Road trips are often equated with summertime, or at least with the warmer months (and by warmer we mean no threat of snowy road conditions). But here’s the thing: we recreate outdoors all year here in Western Montana, so we’re always on the road driving from one ski hill, Nordic paradise or snowmobile trail to another, and we’re here to tell you this—the winter panoramas from the pavement here are pretty magical, and the stops along the way are, too. 

Winter views in Western Montana, like East Glacier’s Dancing Lady Mountain, will not disappoint. Photo: Tracey Vivar

A winter road trip in Glacier Country is always good for a snow-season refresh, whether you get out for a few hours or a whole day, or you turn your travels into an overnight adventure. Never-ending bluebird skies against pure white snow sparkling in the sunshine? Yes please.

Here are a few of our favorite winter drives in Western Montana:

RAVALLI TO ST. REGIS – TOUR 200 + ST. REGIS/PARADISE SCENIC BYWAY
53 Miles
Just outside of Ravalli, head west on Highway 200 traveling along with the Flathead River as it snakes through scenic valley vistas. You’ll pass through the small towns of Dixon—famous for their mouthwatering Dixon Melons—and Perma. As this two-lane highway winds down the valley, the mountains continue to get more and more grand. Head south on Highway 135, following the Clark Fork River down the St. Regis/Paradise Scenic Byway. Stop for a soak at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort or a meal at their historic Harwood House Restaurant. Continue south down this picturesque mountain highway until you reach St. Regis. Stop at the St. Regis Travel Center for gas and a huckleberry shake, and don’t miss the free live trout aquarium!

Highway 135 follows alongside the Clark Fork River, making for a gorgeous and fun drive. Photo: Jerrie Bullock

MISSOULA TO SULA HIGHWAY 93
82 Miles
This four-lane highway takes you straight through the always-gorgeous Bitterroot Valley. From Missoula, drive south towards Lolo, admiring the many towering peaks of this picturesque range, like Lolo and St. Mary. Make an appointment with the Holt Heritage Museum for a history lesson on cowboy culture, American Indians and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. From Lolo, head to Florence and on through Stevensville, Victor and finally to Hamilton. Continue south on 93 until you see the right-hand turn for Lake Como Road. Follow that until you reach the Lake Como Group Picnic Site. Check the Bitterroot National Forest website for trail information, or just enjoy the views of Lake Como underneath Western Montana’s El Capitan and West Como Peak.

Jump back on Highway 93 towards the quaint, Old West town of Darby, where you can fuel up on food and gas, or extend your trip with a stay at Alta Ranch—a great place for cross-country skiing. Highway 93 takes you past Lost Trail Powder Mountain and Chief Joseph Pass for more cross-country-country skiing, snowshoeing or winter hiking.

HIGHWAY 12 SCENIC DRIVE
70 Miles
Highway 12 into Idaho is one spectacular drive, especially in the winter. This two-lane highway weaves through the lush Lolo National Forest. Check out Travelers’ Rest State Park for a little Lewis and Clark history. Highway 12 follows West Fork Lolo Creek, and with the density of the trees and slope of the surrounding mountains, this beautiful drive makes you feel far away from it all. Take a much-deserved stop Lolo Hot Springs for a mineral soak, a warm meal or place to rest your head. Lolo Hot Springs is close to easy snowshoe and cross-country trails (Lolo Pass). Head back towards Lolo to enjoy a different view, but take it easy on this winding mountain road. When you’re back in Lolo, treat yourself to a steak dinner.

WHITEFISH TO WEST GLACIER
26 Miles
Thousands travel this route throughout the summer months, but as a winter drive, it’s just as stunning. Begin in Whitefish with views of a winter Whitefish Lake, or take a fat-bike ride around Beaver Lake with Whitefish Bike Retreat. Outside of Whitefish, head south on Highway 93 to Highway 40 toward Columbia Falls. Highway 40 becomes Highway 2 as you drive into the mouth of this breathtaking canyon. Covered in ice and snow, the Flathead River is truly stunning. Stop in Hungry Horse at the Huckleberry Patch for a slice of homemade Montana pie or fudge. Continue on Highway 2, making a stop at Glacier Distilling Company in Coram (be sure to designate your driver). Highway 2 passes through West Glacier, with access to Glacier National Park. For winter access to Lake McDonald, head north to Apgar Village. The Apgar Visitor Center has weekend hours throughout the winter months. Make sure to check their hours online.

Fat bikes are one cool way to sightsee around Glacier Country. Photo: Adam Caira

The National Park Service also offers weekend ranger-guided snowshoe park tours January through March. Make sure to check the Going-to-the-Sun Road status to see how far into the park the road is open.

Lake McDonald’s keeps its stunning allure all year long.

POLSON TO POLSON: FLATHEAD LAKE LOOP
87.5 Miles
See Flathead Lake from all sides. From Polson, head northwest on Highway 93. Stop by the Kwataqnuk Resort & Casino for a little extra fun. Stay on 93 towards Big Arm and Flathead State Park. Wraps around the “big arm” of the lake through Elmo, Dayton, and Rollins. Lakeside Motel & Resort offers relaxing and scenic lakeside lodging, plus delicious food. From Lakeside, continue north to Somers and then take a left on Highway 82, which will take you past Kalispell Bay and over the Flathead River, then turn onto Highway 35 heading south.

Bigfork is a real charmer. Determine your designated driver and stop by Flathead Lake Brewing Company, or check out The Barn Antiques, Consignment & Gifts. Afterwards, travel on to the stellar winter lake views at Wayfarers/Flathead Lake State Park. We recommend taking it easy on this two-lane highway, for safety reasons and because the winter views of Flathead Lake are incredible. Continue on past Woods Bay towards Finley Point, where we recommend sitting down for dinner at Finley Point Grill.

ESSEX TO ST. MARY
72 Miles
Taking the route from Essex to St. Mary is a unique way to see a very wintry Glacier Country. In Essex, start by cross-country skiing or snowshoeing from the Izaak Walton Inn. If you’re looking for a place to spend the night, rent one of their cabins or iconic renovated cabooses. From Essex, head east on Highway 2. This two-lane highway winds through the mountains, including Mt. Furlong, Snowslip Mountain and Calf Robe Mountain. Wintertime in East Glacier is quiet, but you’ll enjoy the view of Glacier National Park’s peaks where they meet the plains of Eastern Montana. Take the more frequently traveled Highway 2 east towards Browning or the less-traveled Highway 49 north towards Lower Two Medicine Lake, which eventually meets Highway 89. In Browning, check out Faught’s Blackfeet Trading Post or the Museum of the Plains Indian for fascinating American Indian history. Beyond Browning, jump on Highway 89 heading west, passing through the small towns of Star and Kiowa. Continue north until you reach the junction back into the park to see Saint Mary Lake or Lower St. Mary Lake. Travel into Glacier National Park on the east side is a bit more limited than the west, but always know what’s open by checking road conditions online.

Look to the north on Highway 2 for a view of Calf Robe Mountain. Photo: Tracey Vivar

WINTER DRIVING SAFETY TIPS

  • Check out Montana Department of Transportation’s Travel Map for up-to-date road conditions.
  • Travel with sleeping bags, blankets, extra water and food, extra warm clothes, and look ahead for where cell service may be spotty or nonexistent.  
  • Make sure your vehicle is well-maintained: working headlights and tail lights, coolant, windshield wipers, tire pressure, etc.
  • Take it slow! Road conditions may change quickly.
  • Keep an eye out for wildlife.
  • Assign a designated driver if consuming alcohol.
  • Refuel when you can—in some areas, gas stations can be few and far between.
  • Always check business hours before stopping, in case there are weather-related closings or changes.    

We love our wildlife, so please watch carefully for bighorn sheep or other animals while driving. Photo: Jerrie Bullock

Winter Family Fun in Western Montana: Getaway to Glacier Together

Winter’s the time of year when it’s pretty easy to get a little stir crazy. But in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, it’s the season of snowy splendor, and we’ve got the best cure for cabin fever: literally get your family to a cabin—preferably a slopeside one—and embrace all that winter in Western Montana has to offer. If a cabin is not for you, we have plenty of lodges, resorts, ski chalets and vacation homes too for the whole family. Our lodging is exceptionally cozy, and our hospitality is always warm.

Glacier Country gives family time a whole new meaning.

We play all year here, but winter is one of our best seasons for adventure. Exploration is exponential this time of year, and we promise your family will love spending time under the big sky. There’s no better place to rekindle and beat winter boredom. Snow-season activities abound in Western Montana and most are family friendly—just like our charming mountain towns. So pack up your favorite people and head on over to our little slice of winter heaven.

SKI + BOARD
Trade in all your screens for skis and plug into our powder paradise of family-friendly resorts. Western Montana makes your family ski vacation a memorable alpine adventure with six downhill ski areas. Get the entire family on the slopes with affordable lift tickets, no crowds or lift lines, plus ski school and rentals.

You know it was a good day of skiing at Lost Trail Powder Mountain with a smile like this.

The Kids Center at Whitefish Mountain Resort provides childcare for the littles who aren’t skiing yet and early ski and board programs for those just starting out.

Located on the Montana/Idaho border is Lookout Pass. Their famous free ski school (restrictions apply; see their website for details) plus their affordable lift tickets (free for children 6 and under) make for an unforgettable experience.

Visiting Missoula for the holidays? Snowbowl has a three-day ski school between Christmas and the new year. Plus, their pizza is so good, locals drive up to “The Bowl” just for that. (Parents take note: Snowbowl is also known for its bloody marys.)

SLEIGH RIDES
Experience the magic of our enchanting winter wonderland by dashing through the snow in a horse-drawn sleigh—complete with hot cocoa and jingle bells, of course. Sleigh rides in Glacier Country offer snowy vistas by day and starry skies by night.

It’s pure enchantment when you see Western Montana by horse-drawn-sleigh. Photo: Cripple Creek Ranch

HOCKEY + ICE SKATING
Pass the puck at a pickup game of hockey at Missoula’s indoor ice rink, enjoy open skate at Kalispell’s newly renovated outdoor rink, Woodlandland Ice Center, or try the outdoor rink in Missoula’s Rattlesnake Valley. Headed to the Bitterroot Valley? Florence has a new outdoor rink as well, plus there’s an old-fashioned candy store further on down “The Root” in Darby.

SLEDDING
This quintessential winter pastime is one of the easiest ways to play in the Montana powder and always affords plenty of laughs. Enjoy the crisp mountain air and breathtaking scenery. Sledding is a pretty great way to make magical winter memories. Grab a sled, tube or toboggan and head for the hills. You’ll find popular sledding spots all across the region, and many of our resorts offer sledding and tobogganing activities. If you’re in the Flathead Valley, check out the sledding hills at Polson’s Riverside Park, and then take a scenic wintry drive up Flathead Lake to explore the storied town of Bigfork.

There’s nothing quite as classic than sledding with family on Montana winter’s day.

GOOD EATS FOR EVERYONE
After a long day playing together, food is essential. In Glacier Country, it’s also very yummy. Grab a meal at one of our many kid-friendly restaurants. Check out the kids’ menu at The Montana Club in Kalispell and Missoula, or dine at one of our family-friendly breweries and then cozy up fireside and reminisce of the day’s adventures. Pro-Parent Tip: Missoula’s Northside KettleHouse Brewery has toys and games for the kiddos.

Enjoy KettleHouse’s amazing beer at their family-friendly Missoula brewery.

GO WITH A GUIDE
We realize (all too well) that getting everyone out of the house can be a bit chaotic. Take a travel tip from us and make your trip as relaxing as possible. Western Montana guides and outfitters are here to help you have a memorable, authentic and safe experience, no matter your adventure preference. Snowshoe tour through Glacier National Park, anyone? Glacier Adventure Guides offers tours for the whole family.

Guided trips offer a fun and unique experience for everyone in the family. Photo: Devin Schmit

Psst…if you’re planning a family reunion, think about renting a block of condos next to Whitefish Mountain Resort and gather in a Glacier Country winter. There’s something for everyone here.

 

 

 

Meet Glacier Country’s Best-Kept Secret: Winter in Libby

Winter is typically known as the season of hibernation and all things cozy, though cabin fever often finds a way of sneaking in. Here in Glacier Country, we’ve got just the cure for that: the little town of Libby, Montana boasts big adventures.

Libby sits humbly in the scenic northwest corner of Big Sky Country, surrounded by national forestland “where the Cabinet Mountains meet the Kootenai River.” This unassumingly awesome small town does winter the way winter should be done. The terrain is vast, the powder is the epitome of perfection and the hospitality is authentic.

Small but mighty, Turner Mountain Ski Resorts offers great snow and big views. Photo: Bruce Zwang

Slay the snow downhill at Turner Mountain, with some of the best lift-assisted skiing in the U.S., according to SKI magazine. This tucked-away treasure delivers sought-after skiing and snowboarding on 25 named runs with a vertical drop of 2,110 feet, affordable lift tickets, no crowds and priceless adventure. Added bonus: The views are real jaw droppers. Turner is open Friday through Sunday. Don’t miss Turner Mountain Fun Day annually in February.

Nordic skiers find their paradise in Libby, too. Make a day of it on a groomed trail with lunch at a picnic shelter, and warm up later by a trailside fire ring, or soak up the solitude and serenity of open-ridge backcountry trails against the beauty of the Yaak and Kootenai.

Where the terrain and powder are seemingly endless, this is one epic place. Photo: Lincoln County SnoKat Club

For power-hungry powder seekers, hundreds of miles of groomed snowmobile trails crisscross the region, where stunning views are a dime a dozen. Warming huts and Forest Service lookouts dot the terrain. Around these parts, snowmobilers will find plenty to do and see while winter is in Montana. 

When it’s time to get back to the warm and cozy, Libby provides. This little community bustles year-round with hometown charm, lodging, dining and amenities.

INSIDER TIPS

Play + Stay: Venture Inn and Restaurant
“Libby’s finest,” the Venture Inn offers the relaxing stay you need after a day in the snow. Cozy accommodations are their specialty, and the inn’s restaurant serves up delicious home-style comfort food all year long for hungry travelers. Bringing your powderhound along for the adventure? The Venture Inn has pet-friendly rooms, too.

Fill up and warm up at AuntT’s with meals like this Loaded Baked Potato soup. Photo: AuntT’s Coffee Corner

Caffeine for the Soul: AuntT’s Coffee Corner
Look. We know. The day begins after coffee. AuntT knows it too. That’s why she created Libby’s destination espresso bar with all of us in mind. And, since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, she makes that, too. See you at AuntT’s for a hot cup of joe and a delicious breakfast sammy.

Montana does craft beer very well and Cabinet Mountain Brewing Company is no exception.

Pull up a Barstool…er, a Couch: Cabinet Mountain Brewing Company
Dubbed “Libby’s Living Room,” Cabinet Mountain Brewing has become the city’s community gathering place. Montana’s only women-owned brewery, CMBC handcrafts mighty excellent ales and sodas, serves up delicious food made to pair well with their brews, and offers live music every week. If you find yourself in Libby on a Tuesday evening, it’s Taproom Trivia night at CMBC, so grab an award-winning Yaak Attack IPA and put on your game face.

LEAVE IT TO LIBBY:
Friends…Libby has a Polar Bear Club, and it’s a sight to behold. Every Sunday from the last one in October through the first one in April, this local club of Libby’s courageous—along with its unofficial leader, Polar Bear Rick—meets at 2 p.m. at the Farm-to-Market bridge over Libby Creek. Feeling bold? Take the plunge and you’ll be honored with a certificate for your bravery.

Libby just can’t help itself: it’s a true winter wonderland. Grab a pair of snowshoes and trek to Kootenai Falls for epic views of Mother Nature’s ice sculptures, or head to Ross Creek and experience a real-life snow-globe of giant western red cedars.  

Sled the Burn in Big Sky Country: Montana’s New Snowmobile Playground

Montana’s wild winter wonderland just got even bigger. Thousands of acres of new snowmobiling terrain in Seeley Lake, Ovando and Lincoln have been opened up by last summer’s wildfires. Fire season is par for the course around here, and sometimes the flames can be devastating, but they’re also a natural and important part of the regeneration of the land. And, in this case, they’ve gifted sled heads a new powder paradise to play in.

Snowmobiling and sled skiing are some of the best ways to cover vast expanses of sought-after terrain in Glacier Country. Hundreds of miles of groomed trails and brag-worthy backcountry beckon from fall into spring around here, and, with the burn, Seeley Lake, Ovando and Lincoln are preparing for an epic year of snowmobiling. Sled enthusiasts from far and wide will be eager to power up and plow through the new terrain.

Our region sees over 300 inches of snow each year, and over 600 miles of groomed trails in the Seeley Swan and Blackfoot valleys offer extraordinary snowmobiling and backcountry sled skiing for all skill levels. Add the burn, and this powder haven is a bucket list must.

Riding in Seeley Lake offers thrilling rides and views.  Photo: Warren Miller Entertainment

INSIDER TIPS
There’s something magical about heading out into the great wide open on your own, but we strongly recommend going with a guide. Our experts are just that—experts. They’re also pretty fun to hang out with. They know the terrain, and they know how to show adventurers a good time. Rocky Mountain Adventure Gear offers snowmobile rentals and guided tour packages for up to six people.

SEELEY LAKE
With world-class terrain and breathtaking views, Seeley Lake brings the thrills. 350 miles of trails crisscross the Swan and Mission mountain valleys, and the town’s pretty amazing to boot. Questions about sledding in Seeley? Consult the Seeley Lake Driftriders Snowmobile Club. They’d love to hear from you.

The Double Arrow Lodge
Surrounded by over 300 miles of groomed trails from the flat to the steep, this historic lodge offers the coziest accommodations around. Oh, and their food’s top-notch too. This is in your favor, since you’ll have worked up a big appetite after a big day in big snow.

Lindey’s Prime Steak House
“The place for steak since 1958,” Lindey’s serves up mouthwatering steaks and cocktails to weary winter wanderers. And, since you’ll be there sometime between October and April, you’ll have the added bonus of adding half a pound of king crab legs to your steak dinner.

Moose River Bar & Grill
Steamed clams, Irish nachos and pub pickles after a day in powder paradise? Yes please. Moose River is ready for you. You’re welcome. We’ll see you at the bar.

Big mountain dreams come true in Glacier Country. Photo: Warren Miller Entertainment

OVANDO
Winter in the Blackfoot Valley offers the stuff a snowmobiler’s dreams are made of. Over 500 miles of groomed lakeside, forested and big mountain trails stretch out right from the heart this charming mountain town.

Blackfoot Inn
This historic downtown inn offers comfortable overnight lodging, an iconic convenience store, old-fashioned ice cream, gasoline, and the other necessary fuel—espresso. Power up before you power up.

The Stray Bullet
Rise and shine at this Montana gem. Breakfast is essential, especially before snow play. Try the Side Saddle, the Gunslinger or the Outlaw. Or, stop in for lunch after an early morning ride. Or, both.

Trixi’s Antler Saloon
One of Glacier Country’s most iconic pubs, Trixi’s is the perfect stop to warm up and raise a glass to a good day in the mountains. Bring the whole family or gather with old friends—this place welcomes all who are ready to enjoy fabulous food and authentic Montana hospitality.

Lincoln, Montana showing off the beauty of good snow on a bluebird day. Photo: Southwest Montana Tourism

LINCOLN
250 miles of trails, mountaintop views and deep snow deliver in Lewis and Clark County, no matter your skill level.

Lincoln Pit Stop
Make a post-powder pit stop at this Lincoln treasure for a huckleberry shake. Nothing, not even cold weather, should ever stop you from having a huckleberry milkshake in Montana.

Leeper’s Motel
Just off Highway 200 in a ponderosa pine grove, the charming Leeper’s Motel offers year-round accommodations. With ample sled-trailer parking and close access to Lincoln’s trail systems, this family-owned motel is a great place to stay while visiting the area.

As always, sled safe. Know the laws, procure the permits and be avalanche aware. Winter terrain is pure adventure, but it’s also vital to know the rules of the rugged.

Check out sledtheburn.com for more on these communities, outdoor resources, weather, and trail information. Winter in Montana is wide open, friends. See you on the burn!

Sled the burn in Montana this winter. Enter to win one of three vacation packages here.

15 Holiday Events in Western Montana: A Big Sky Country Christmas

We always talk about how much we love winter, and it’s the truth. It’s also true that we love the festive holiday frolic the season brings. In Western Montana’s Glacier Country, we really know how to deck the halls and celebrate the season of giving with all things merry and bright.

So without further ado, here’s a look at Western Montana’s must-see happenings this holiday season.

Deck the halls! Whitefish, Montana showing off its western holiday spirit. Photo: Brian Schott.

Santa at Missoula’s Southgate Mall + Holiday Performances
Capture the magic of the season at Southgate Mall, the region’s largest shopping center, with a Santa visit and photos, as well as a gingerbread house contest display and holiday performances. For a complete rundown of holiday happenings at the mall, visit shopsouthgate.com. New this year: Holiday Hustle for Him on Wednesday, December 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Christmas at Kalispell’s Conrad Mansion Museum
November 24 – December 31
The home of one of Kalispell’s founders, Charles Conrad, gets completely decked out in seasonal splendor, and the mansion offers tours Fridays and Saturdays during the holiday season at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m

Old-Fashioned Forest Service Christmas at the National Museum of Forest Service History, Missoula
November 25, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Join Santa Claus and his pack mule team, plus Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl, for Christmas stories and songs around the campfire, a candy cane hunt, holiday shopping at the Bungalow Ranger Station, plus Bill Moore’s book, “The Lochsa Story,” his documentary, “Bud’s Place,” and a book signing with author Vicky MacLean.

Carriage Rides in Downtown Missoula
Saturdays and Sundays November 25 – December 17, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Take a break from the holiday hustle for a festive horse-drawn carriage ride in downtown Missoula. The Resort at Paws Up brings two of their beloved horses to town for free carriage rides. Make your way to Missoula’s East Pine Street and hop in.

Enjoy a festive carriage ride through downtown Missoula. Photo: Taylar Robbins

Polson Parade of Lights
December 1, 6 p.m.
Get festive in the Flathead Valley and celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season with Santa, a bonfire, food vendors and a parade. Downtown Polson shops stay open late so you can start checking names off your gift list.

Lantern Tours at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula
December 1 – 3, 5:30 p.m.- 7:00 p.m.
The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula offers guided lantern tours providing a look into past winters (complete with plenty of Christmas moments) and ends with cocoa and cookies. Book early! Call 406.728.3476 (extension 1) to purchase tickets.

Whitefish Christmas Stroll
December 8, 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.
The quintessential mountain resort town of Whitefish decks its halls and kicks off the holiday season with a downtown Christmas Stroll featuring concerts, a tree-lighting ceremony, Santa, and wagon rides from Bar W Guest Ranch.

A Christmas carol before your eyes—chestnuts roasting on an open fire in Whitefish, Montana  Photo: Peter Siudara

Christmas Light Trolley Tours in Kalispell
December 8 – 31
Hop aboard a cozy trolley and set out to view the holiday lights in Kalispell with Montana Trolley Co. Click here for specific times and additional info.

Christmas in Bigfork
Located on the bay of Flathead Lake, the quaint (and beyond adorable) community of Bigfork goes all out for Christmas. Two days to note: Saturday, December 9 and Saturday, December 16. On those days, Santa comes to Bigfork, along with carolers and free live music dowtown, and the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre presents “White Christmas.”

Not many places celebrate Christmas quite like Bigfork, Montana. Photo: Bigfork Chamber of Commerce

Dolce Canto’s Light, Beauty, Peace at the Historic St. Ignatius Mission
December 10, 7 p.m.
One of the most beautiful churches in the state, the St. Ignatius Mission hosts Missoula’s a cappella (though sometimes accompanied) choir, Dolce Canto, for a holiday concert encouraging listeners to meditate on the notion of hope this holiday season.

Handel’s Messiah with Glacier Symphony + Chorale
December 15 – 17, 7:30 p.m.
A popular holiday tradition, the Glacier Symphony and Chorale performs Handel’s Messiah in Bigfork, Whitefish and Kalispell.

The Nutcracker in Missoula
December 15 – 17
A beloved holiday tradition, Montana’s Garden City Ballet performs “The Nutcracker.” Check specific times here for this treasured Missoula community event.

The grace and tradition of Missoula’s Nutcracker performance will be the highlight of your holiday season. Photo Neil Chaput de Saintonge

Community Christmas Party
December 16, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Hamilton’s historic Daly Mansion hosts a Community Christmas Party complete with a visit from Santa and activities for the whole family.

Yuletide Affair 14 at Alpine Theatre Project
December 21-23, 7 p.m.
This sellout show stages once again at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center with a mix of holiday music, Broadway-caliber performances and hilarious satire. You can snag tickets here.

Whitefish’s Yuletide Affair is the perfect combination of comedy and winter cheer. Photo: Brenda Ahearn

Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade at Whitefish Mountain Resort
December 24
A Christmas Eve tradition, Santa visits the slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort, leads a torchlight parade on snow-covered Big Mountain, and gives out gifts at Ed & Mully’s after the parade (so hopefully you’ve been good this year).

You can also check out a full listing of holiday events at glaciermt.com/events.php.

May your days be merry and bright! (If you’re in Montana, all of your Christmases will probably be white, too. We just can’t help ourselves.)

 

 

 

Scenic Drives + Small-Town Discovery: Meet Thompson Falls + Tour 200

Thompson Falls is stunning in every season. Photo: Kate Baxter

First things first: Let’s talk 200. Discovery is inevitable on this road less traveled. State Highway 200 offers access to a slice of Montana that may not be on your radar, but should be. This treasure trove of outdoor recreation in the northwest part of the state is also chock-full of small-town surprises for those who like to wander off the beaten path.

The section of Highway 200 from Dixon to Heron is so scenic it’s been designated “Montana Tour 200.” It humbly winds its way through the Cabinet and Coeur d’Alene mountain ranges, with diverse side trips, scenic drives and backroad adventures offered all along the route. Recreation and solitude abound here, and so does authentic western hospitality. Folks are friendly and the lodging is cozy.

Where to stop…

Milepost 50 is where it’s at. Touted as a town “where the weather is always better than the forecast,” Thompson Falls boasts the warmest climate in the state. But that’s not all that makes it a year-round outdoor recreation hotspot. Nestled between the Lolo and Kootenai national forests, public lands are plenty, and “getting away from it all” is easy as pie. (We’ll talk more about pie in a sec.)

Hunting for solitude along a trail near Thompson Falls. Photo: Thompson Falls Main Street

Finding solitude here is pretty simple. Thousands of miles of trails offer adventure in every direction. Fall and winter are especially good for hunting and fishing—Outdoor Life magazine listed Thompson Falls #16 of the 35 best hunting and fishing towns in the country. It’s also a haven for hikers that’s exceptionally beautiful in the golden hues of autumn, and winter offers a snow-globe setting that’s simply magical by snowshoe. Pro tip: Quinn’s Hot Springs is right down the road in Paradise, and a post-adventure soak in Paradise sounds pretty heavenly, if you ask us.

Steam rises from the pools at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort in Paradise, Montana.

Speaking of winter, one of our favorite winter activities is snowmobiling, and the Thompson Falls area offers a motorized mecca for powder hounds. There are plenty of winter recreation opportunities including snowshoeing and sledding, but make sure to bring your own gear with you when you come.

Snowshoeing with the best kind of companion. Photo: Thompson Falls Main Street

In short, Thompson Falls is pretty awesome and totally unassuming. It’s also so friendly it’ll knock your socks right off and then offer you a nice spot to put your feet up by a warm fireplace. Actually, you’ll find that’s pretty common in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Come Tour 200 and see for yourself.

THOMPSON TIPS:

Christmas on Main Street
Get festive in the Falls the first full weekend in December. Shop Main Street’s BUY LOCAL! event with fun activities, including the Main Street Scavenger Hunt, topped off with an evening parade for the whole family. The weekend also includes a musical at the local theater, a gingerbread competition at the Old Jail Museum and a Christmas Craft Show.

Island Park
There’s a little island on the Clark Fork River, and that little island has a park on it where you can view the Thompson Falls dam, a fish ladder, the Clark Fork River and valley, powerhouses, two bridges (including the newly renovated Historic High Bridge) and an old substation. Take a stroll down one of many trails and enjoy a picnic lunch with an incredible view.

Built in 1915, the Thompson Falls Dam can be found on the Clark Fork River.

Minnie’s Montana Café
This mom-and-pop must-stop is a local favorite for homestyle cooking and comfort food, and, of course, that pie we mentioned earlier. The pie so good here you’ll be wondering if your grandmother is hiding in Minnie’s kitchen.

You must try Minnies Montana Cafe on Main Street.

Little Bear Ice Cream
Ice Cream in the winter? Yes please. Even after pie? Absolutely. When it’s some of the best ice cream in the state, you’ll be in the mood for Little Bear any time of year.

Save room for dessert at Little Bear.

See you on 200.

Cozy Up: Hot Drinks + Sweet Treats in Western Montana

As we trade in autumn hues for winter white, we gravitate toward all things warm and cozy. Western Montana is full of small-town coffee stops, diners, cafés and bakeries perfect for that warm caffeine boost and tasty treat you’re craving with these cooler temps. The next time you’re in Glacier Country enjoying our winter wonder, hit up one of our favorite sweet spots. The over-50-mile-stretch from Missoula down into the Bitterroot Valley is dotted with deliciousness, and the drive is a scenic one to boot.

Bernice’s Bakery – Missoula, MT

Watch artisan bakers prepare everything from cakes and breads to scones and macaroons, right in front of your eyes. Since 1978, Bernice’s has been providing Missoula with what some might call “the best sugar cookie west of the Mississippi.” Don’t believe us? Stop by for a perfectly iced, Montana-shaped sugar cookie and try to tell us we’re wrong. Plus, cookies always pair well with hot tasty beverages and Bernice’s has some of the best.

Enjoy a delectable macaroon with your latte at Bernice’s Bakery. Photo: Ashley Caitlin Photography.

Red Rooster Artisan Bakery – Hamilton, MT

If you’re a shameless sweet-coffee drinker or a hot cocoa fanatic, this is your place. To complement their artisan baked breads and pastries, Red Rooster often lists specials like “The Ugly Mug”—a caramel mocha with whipped cream and caramel chocolate drizzle. Duck into their shop for a winter warmup.

At Red Rooster Bakery in Hamilton, there are so many pastry options, so why not try them all? (We won’t tell… we promise.) Photo: Red Rooster.

Taste of Paris – Hamilton, MT

More of a brunch person? Don’t worry, we love brunch. This French Bistro is arguably the closest you’ll get to France in Montana. Stop by on Sunday for their AMAZING crepes.

Montana meets France with a Taste of Paris crepe. Photo: Taste of Paris.

Morningstar Caffeine & Cuisine – Stevensville, MT

If the first thing you think when you wake up is “I need caffeine” this is the place for you. Stop by for the main event—coffee—and stay for the quiches, pastries, soups and sandwiches.

Start your morning off right with a huckleberry bear claw from Stevensville’s Morningstar Café.

Florence Coffee Hut – Bitterroot

Sprinkled throughout the Bitterroot Valley and much of Western Montana, this coffee hut is always a comforting complement to a long day of Glacier Country exploration. Look for these adorable teal-colored drive-thrus in Missoula, Lolo, Florence (of course), Hamilton and Stevensville.

You’ll be hard pressed to travel through Glacier Country without seeing one of the famous Florence Coffee huts.

 

Le Petit Outre – Missoula, MT

Hearth-fired European-style breads and decadent pastries are rolled out every morning in one of the most delicious bakery cases you’ve ever laid eyes on. With names like Bacca Florentine, Kouign Amann and Pain au Nuit, it’ll be hard to decide what to pick. Cozy up in the bakery with an espresso and one of these incredible baked goods.

Kick back with a cannelle and coffee at Le Petit on Missoula’s Hip Strip. PHOTO: Rio Chantel Photography.

Biking Montana’s Bitterroot Trail: Missoula to Hamilton

Biking on the Bitterroot Trail. PHOTO: Saara Snow

Three decades of hard work and dedication went into the completion of the 50-mile paved trail that connects Western Montana’s cultural hub—Missoula—with the gorgeous Bitterroot Valley, known fondly around here as “the Root.” The trail, stretching all the way to Hamilton, is lined with small towns, scenic bends, recreation hot spots, and a whole lot of beauty and charm.

Paralleling the rugged Bitterroot Mountains to the west and the rolling Sapphire Mountains to the east, the trail allows bicyclists to weave their way through one of the most picturesque parts of our region, which is especially vibrant in the fall. The Bitterroot is also an angler’s paradise, and autumn in Montana  offers quieter waters with heavenly golden views.

Fall foliage colors the Bitterroot landscape. PHOTO: Donnie Sexton

START PEDALING: Missoula

Fuel up in this hip little mountain town with coffee shops galore. Pack some snacks and hit the trail from the central part of town. Missoula also makes a great base camp for Glacier Country exploration.

If you prefer to hit the path and go the distance without many stops, go for it; road bikes cruise the route frequently. It will not disappoint. If you’re up for it, venture off the path onto scenic backroads from Victor to Hamilton, or climb Skalkaho Pass and Sleeping Child Road.

If you’re like us and you’re looking for a slower-paced pedal with side adventures aplenty, there’s much to see and do in the valley. Recreation opportunities abound in the Bitterroot National Forest, the Bitterroot River beckons, and the quaint towns along the trail offer a place to rest, recharge and experience the western hospitality we’re known for.

Stops along the way…

Recreation areas, parks, mountain biking and hiking trails, and fishing spots dot the route, and various campgrounds provide drinking water, bathroom facilities and overnight sites, if you’re interested in making a stay of it.

The small towns that make up the Bitterroot Valley offer adventure in abundance, plus unique local eateries, breweries and watering holes to fill your belly and quench your thirst.

Fueling up at Morningstar Caffeine and Cuisine in Stevensville. PHOTO: Saara Snow

Lolo: Visit Travelers’ Rest State Park and Holt Heritage Museum (open by appointment only). Need a chocolate boost for the ride? Stop in at The Sweets Barn for just that.

Florence: Veer off the trail southeast of Florence for mountain biking at Threemile Wildlife Management Area, or head to Chief Looking Glass Campground for blue-ribbon trout-stream fishing access on the Bitterroot River.

Stevensville: Find yourself in Montana’s first settlement. Check out St. Mary’s Mission for a history lesson or the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge—a birder’s paradise. For a bite to eat, downtown Stevensville packs a lot of punch for its size.

Biking near Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.

Victor: Visit the Victor Heritage Museum, and also find easy access to the Bitterroot National Forest. Visiting in October? Victor’s Field of Screams is exactly the haunted adventure it sounds like it is.

FINISH UP: Hamilton

At the southern end of the trail, Hamilton is the Bitterroot’s largest small town. Tour the historic Daly Mansion or recreate in nearby Blodgett Canyon. After 50+ miles of pedaling, you might need a drink, and you’ve undoubtedly worked up a Montana sized appetite…so go ahead and make your way to Moose Creak Barbecue, or pull up a barstool at one of the town’s beloved breweries—Higherground Brewing Co. or BitterRoot Brewery, both of which serve delicious food, too.

Hamilton’s Daly Mansion. PHOTO: Destination Missoula

Biking the Bitterroot Trail is a pretty unique way to tour this storied and scenic valley and create your own adventure in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Grab a bike, and we’ll see you in the Root!

Fall Family Fun: Montana’s Harvest Traditions + Halloween Happenings

Pumpkin patch in Missoula. PHOTO: Destination Missoula

Western Montana’s golden fall foliage set against our signature big blue sky is enough to make autumn a lovely time to visit Glacier Country. Add to that our strong heritage of local harvest traditions and Halloween happenings, and the season becomes downright fun. Family activities abound this time of year, and we’re here to give you an insider’s guide to some of our best—and spookiest—festivities. So grab that pumpkin spice latte you’ve been waiting all year for (and perhaps a handful of candy corn) and give in to your craving for all things autumn. Oh, and don’t forget your costume.

Family Fall Fest: Missoula

October 21, 2017, 1 – 4 p.m.

Fall frolic happens at the Fort. Fort Missoula Regional Park, that is. The Fort’s classic Family Fall Fest has everything you’d expect—a costume parade, apple cider pressed on site, hayrides, pumpkin and face painting, games, sack races, and…a giant pile of leaves. Jump into fall in Montana at this fun family festival. Plus, it’s free. (A suggested $1 donation supports the Fort’s scholarship fund.)

Haunted Hayrides: Hamilton

October 27 – 28, 2017, 7 – 10 p.m.

What’s fall without a hayride and Halloween without haunting? Head to the historic Daly Mansion in Hamilton for both of these things—haunted hayrides. Ghouls, ghosts and goblins wander the mansion grounds. Witness a zombie wedding, scary clowns and a hillbilly village. Bonus: The Bitterroot Valley is absolutely stunning this time of year, so add a leaf-peeping scenic drive onto either end of your hayride, whether you stick to Highway 93 or turn off into one of the Bitterroot’s scenic canyons to pull over and take a golden fall hike (costumes optional, hiking shoes recommended).

Hamilton’s Daly Mansion. PHOTO: Destination Missoula

Field of Screams: Victor

Open through October 31 (see website for days/times)

Hailed as “Western Montana’s #1 Haunted Attraction” Victor’s Field of Screams is exactly what it sounds like it is. Daytime fun turns into nighttime terror. Bring your little goblins by during the daylight hours for wagon rides, a hay bale tower and cornfield fun without the spooks. But when the sun goes down the zombies come out, and it’s time for the big kids to play. Field of Screams is not for the faint of heart. Thrills and chills abound.

Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch: Kalispell

Open through October 31, 2017, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Picking out a pumpkin is part of the magic of the season, and building a day of autumn adventure around it makes it all the more special. Head to the breathtaking (especially this time of year) Flathead Valley and make fall farm memories at the family-run Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch, with activities like a giant jumping pillow and a huge construction site sand box, plus tractor tours, farm animals and train rides. Jump in the corn kernel shed, hang out by the plum trees, and savor the season with caramel apples, kettle corn and hot chocolate. Oh, and don’t forget to pick out a pumpkin!

Sweet Pickin’s Pumpkin Patch. PHOTO: Sweet Pickin’s

Festival of the Dead

November 2, 2017, 6 – 8:30 p.m.

Inspired by the traditions of the Mexican holiday El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Missoula’s unique and popular annual Festival of the Dead is a multicultural family-friendly event celebrating life and death through community arts. The festival culminates with a procession, which begins at the north end of downtown Missoula’s Higgins Avenue and processes to Caras Park, with post-procession performances by the University of Montana’s African Dance Class and Unity Dance and Drum.

Harvest Wrap-Up: Glacier Country’s rich autumn traditions are the perfect way to take in fall in Montana. Do note: It’s the season of favorite flannels and cozy sweaters, but be prepared for any kind of weather this time of year.

For more fall fun, visit our Fall in Montana page, where we’ve compiled a list of autumn activity ideas and events in our little corner of Big Sky Country. Be in the know about all the finest fall happenings, and also learn where to hike, bike, float, fish, golf and camp—all the obvious things we love about Montana—among the vibrant fall colors. We’ll also help you find the best local spots to kick back and relax with some of Montana’s favorite fall flavors (think pumpkin ice cream) and tastiest seasonal brews. There’s something for every member of the family to enjoy in a Montana autumn, plus shoulder-season pricing.

Warren Miller Can’t Get Enough Epic Montana Powder

It’s no secret that winter in Western Montana is pretty extraordinary. With over 300 inches of snow every year and thousands of acres of awe-inspiring terrain, including six downhill ski areas, it’s most certainly a winter travel destination. But, it’s not just that. It’s a sought-after winter playground for adrenaline seekers and backcountry explorers in search of powder paradise. When you experience a Glacier Country winter, you find the heavenly helpings of snow we’re talking about, and if there’s anyone who knows where to go for the “epic pow,” it’s Warren Miller. For the second year in a row, Warren Miller Entertainment has journeyed right here to Western Montana to take the powder plunge.

A filmmaker for over 60 years, Warren Miller is a legend in the ski and snow industry. He founded Warren Miller Entertainment in 1949—one of the largest, most established and successful action sports film companies today. Warren’s 68th feature film, Line of Descent, celebrates the generational aspect of skiers and riders conquering the ascent and reveling in the descent on some of the world’s deepest lines. The film features some of Glacier Country’s most epic backcountry, merging snowsports with backcountry skiers and a snowmobiler sharing—and crushing—the same terrain. Montana native and professional snowmobile athlete Keith Curtis teams up once again with professional skiers Tyler Ceccanti, Collin Collins and Julian Carr for epic snow play right here in the Seeley Lake area, Bigfork and Polebridge.

Here’s a look…

Warren Miller athletes catch some serious air in Western Montana’s Glacier Country. Photos: WME

Warren Miller’s film tour officially kicks off winter each year, touring the U.S. from October to December. Check out the full schedule here. Attend one of the film’s domestic premieres, and you can enter to win a ski and sled road trip for two in Western Montana’s Glacier Country.

Glacier Country is one of the main tour sponsors for Warren Miller’s 2017 film. We’re honored, and always proud to represent Big Sky Country. This recognition is a testament to Western Montana’s position as a world-class snowsport destination. Watch the film, then come shred winter with us and see for yourself.